Mobile Apps & iOS – Taking Procurement to the Floor

Cloud, mobile apps, iOS, social media... leave me alone! What in the world does this have to do with procurement and sourcing, you ask? Good question, and as a former skeptic let me share some thoughts.

First, let's look at iOS – this is the operating system driving iPad, iPhone, iPod and other Apple products. The iOS user interface (UI) design is derived from the standard Apple OSX UI and underlying technology and is probably the most extensively usage tested UI out there. You might prefer a different design, perhaps even a Linux-type command line, but that puts you in the minority, especially when you look at those entering the workforce - but you've probably heard that a few times already.

Keep in mind that the iOS and the regular OSX found in Apple laptops and desktops are on a steady path of convergence - expect the two OSs to deliver the same user experience in a few years and expect apps to run on either platform much like iPhone apps can run on iPads today.

Why is this important?
As developers rally around designs for iOS, they have to conform to Apple's design guidelines - this quickly creates a modern feel to the most humdrum corporate applications. Once past the initial visual wow factor, but still with weak content (how many bad mobile apps haven't we all seen?) subsequent refinements will force providers to rethink what is essential and not just bells and whistles stuffing – e.g. the slick packaging of actually useful features in the latest HR management and Point-of-Sale apps from SAP's Successfactors versus MS Word feature bloat, as an example.

I expect this trend to counter bloatware and bring a focus on ease of use and utility. The latter two will help procurement close in on buy-to-sell sourcing and procurement nirvana. The next frontier is about "full picture procurement" – FPP - a way to bring in all those who touch on vendors and products - from design engineering to post sales (end user experience) customer support and ongoing account management.

Touch the floor
This level of broad footprint is inevitable - to progress as a company, to bring more spend into compliance, to fully assess vendor performance, and to have the best shot at early warning risk management - procurement has to "touch the floor." This can be the shop floor (in-house or outsourced), receiving dock, QA lab, parts room, warehouse, retail outlet etc - in most cases the challenge is to quickly engage high-turnover employees with little training in traditional procurement tools. The iOS (and its Android kissing cousins) are familiar UIs that they already know how to navigate. Change management will undoubtedly get a boost from mobile apps.

From the corporate IT perspective, a somewhat hardened iPad for example is cheaper than a laptop or workstation, and the inherent advantages of cloud storage (essentially an improved version of the client-server model of eons ago) delivered over secure Internet connections addresses many corporate concerns such as secure access, redundancies, backups, restricted physical access to core data storage, disaster recovery, guaranteed uptime and other SLA concerns.

To summarize, I think the mobile advantage crystallizes around two factors:

Increased speed
- For providers to add and roll out features - lock in the one-to-many advantages of true SaaS in a packaged application - because a web browser app is often too much one-size-fits-all focused (take a look at the Successfactors examples referenced above and you'll know what I mean) to get the essentials across
- For vendors and buyers to engage - not only sourcing (RFx) but more importantly the P2P process with req to PO to invoice to shipping notices to receiving to matching with tie ins to CLM with change orders, budgets, performance and trends
- For companies and customers - bringing them closer - quickly assess changing needs or product disasters, pull them to the drawing board, and get them into supply chain ASAP

Increased adoption
- The best technology is useless without adoption - and let's face it, most end users are not nearly as excited about apps as I am, and certainly nowhere nearly as feature-obsessed as the technology providers I speak with on a daily basis.

No, let's face it, most users have a job to do, and this sometimes involves using whatever procurement app we get so worked up about as analysts and providers - users just want to get their job done! They want benefits, not more features.

I think the iOS and similar mobile apps can deliver a significant blow to the challenge of getting to the floor, getting adoption by the people who touch products, customers, and vendors. Solution acceptance leads to participation, process visibility, compliance, metrics and should inevitably drive results.

Let me know your thoughts on how you plan to get to the floor - what is your strategy?

- Thomas Kase

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